Reprinted from “Innovations in Food Technology | August 2008 | www.innovfoodtech.com
Cordyceps is a legendary natural medicine found in the Orient, which folklore claims is neither plant nor animal, and which is worth far more than its weight in gold. This narrative may sound like science fiction but it is now shown to be science fact. Amazingly, the myths about Cordyceps pale in comparison to the reality. It does qualify as both plant and animal because it is a mushroom that grows out of the head of a mummified caterpillar, to be collected by Tribesmen in the remote Himalayas. It is then sold in markets around the world for as much as $75,000 a kilo, far more than its weight in gold. This remarkable scenario first caught the attention of researchers in the 1990’s when they heard the news about the performances of the Chinese Women’s Track and Field team at the Chinese National Games in 1993.
In this competition the women broke 9 world records by substantial margins. At first, governing sports authorities suspected that a performance-enhancing drug had been used and they stripped the women of their medals. However, when their coach came forward with the real story, their success was credited to Cordyceps and subsequent testing proved the women were indeed drug free. Researchers worldwide were fascinated by the possibility of locating such a powerful natural performance enhancer, and found that there was already considerable research from China, showing that Cordyceps increases ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) at the cellular level, and increases oxygen utilization by the body, resulting in an increase of useful energy of about 30%. This seemed to solve the controversy over the record-breaking athletes. Thinking there was something more to be learned about this rare botanical medicine, researchers from America mounted an expedition to Tibet to study this unusual creature in its native habitat.
What they found was an amazing resource for health and well-being. Unfortunately, it’s also a victim of its own popularity, an economic powerhouse being driven to extinction in the middle of political upheaval. The harvesting of Cordyceps has accounted for more than 50% of the Tibetan economy for many years, but lately it has become harder and harder to find due to over harvesting and political oppression. The Tibetan nomads rely on the once-a-year harvest of Cordyceps to maintain their subsistence living, while the Chinese are striving to “modernize” their new territory of Tibet. Once the source of prosperity, Cordyceps is now causing deadly turf wars. Hopefully the Olympics this year will draw attention to the political impasse and a solution can be found, but for now, the 2008 collecting season saw the Chinese close all but 2 of 27 counties for Cordyceps gathering due to Tibetan nationalist unrest. This made for a bleak harvest for the Tibetans, and pushed the price of Cordyceps higher than ever.
Cordyceps has always been rare due to its remote habitat and the high demand for its medicinal properties. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese and Tibetan Medicine for virility, fertility, liver and kidney disorders, lung problems, hyperlipidemia, weakness, fatigue, combating colds and flu, cough and phlegm, shortness of breath, bronchial discomfort, asthma, and for overall rejuvenation. In times past only the royalty of China could afford to use it. Now, with increasing interest from the rest of the world, over-harvesting of the wild stocks and subsequent shortage of wild specimens, many companies are starting to cultivate Cordyceps, bringing its price within reach of the average man or woman. While many have tried to cultivate it, few have succeeded in replicating the potency of the wild collected varieties. Only one company in America, Aloha Medicinals, has succeeded in growing Cordyceps under natural conditions of cold temperature and high altitude.
Their unique and patented process results in cultivated Cordyceps which is actually more potent and much more consistent than the wild collected variety, at only a fraction of the price of wild Cordyceps. There are many reasons besides price one may wish to avoid wild Cordyceps. The issue of counterfiting has become a serious matter for consumers, and contamination is also a grave concern. The practice of adulteration had traditionally involved a small bit of twig inserted into the caterpillars to improve appearance and also increase their weight. This may have been a relatively harmless practice, as long as the object inserted was from a nontoxic source. But modern collectors have found that more weight can be added if lead wire is used instead of twigs, turning a healthful product into a risky proposition. There have been numerous reports recently of lead poisoning from the consumption of wild Cordyceps. As the price climbs, the inventive sellers have also begun to make completely fake imitations out of painted bread dough and other materials. This has led many consumers to lose faith in the wild collected variety.
Many companies now produce artificially cultivated Cordyceps products, but there is wide variation in quality. With new advances in biotechnology this is rapidly changing. Aloha Medicinals grows Cordyceps in a laboratory environment exactly replicating the natural growth conditions of the wild (the high-altitude air composition and the low temperatures found on the high Himalayan plateau). The low temperature hypoxia cultivation process produces Cordyceps which duplicates and even surpasses the analytical profile of the active ingredients of wild Cordyceps. This makes Aloha Medicinals’ Cordyceps a realistic substitute for the much higher priced wild varieties. These unique cultivation protocols, coupled with the development of new strains and hybridization, are resulting in Cordyceps of unprecedented quality and consistency. In order to thwart the deceptive practices in the Cordyceps trade and insure authenticity and quality, Aloha Medicinals has also developed exacting standards for testing the quality of their product. These analytical methods have become the gold standard by which all Cordyceps is graded around the world today.
An analysis done by independent laboratories comparing wild Cordyceps and cultivated Cordyceps revealed that Aloha Medicinals’ laboratory-grown Cordyceps not only matched the chemical analysis of wild Cordyceps, but actually far exceeded the potency of its active ingredients! Aloha Medicinals’ innovative solutions to the high price and uncertain quality of this traditionally revered medicine has produced a body of research and resulting products that are pioneering the fusion of ancient knowledge and 21st century cutting edge technology. Aloha Medicinals’ patents on the techniques used to produce their super potent Cordyceps standard-ized the cultivation methods and the testing procedures for purity, efficacy and strain validity, so the quality of their super potent Cordyceps can be relied upon. Only controlled environment cultivation techniques can produce the targeted medicinally active compounds to meet the specific needs required for different applications. This is true not only for Cordyceps, but for all medicinal mushrooms cultivated today. Aloha Medicinals has used their proprietary Cordyceps in supplement formulas for all classes of use. Everyone from athletes to the elderly uses it to increase stamina and support immune health. Aloha Medicinals also manufactures Cordyceps derived animal health supplements, which are used extensively for racehorses and in pet health products.
The natural antibiotic potential of Cordyceps has met with great interest since the EU banned the use of antibiotics in the food chain in 2006, with other countries following suit. There is extensive research on beef and dairy farms successfully using Cordyceps as an anti-biotic replacement, and trials are underway in several countries for its use as antibiotic replacement for fish farming. It is revolutionizing the meat production industry in an organically acceptable manner, increasing animal health and the resulting quality of the finished products. Cordyceps is also being processed to ultra fine particle size, called Nanoparticles. These Nanoparticles remain in liquid suspension, making them ideal for the burgeoning health beverage market. As well, the pleasant nutty flavor of Cordyceps has drawn attention from health conscious candy manufacturers. Companies such as Aloha Medicinals are using modern technology to ensure the best properties of wild botanicals, long collected for their medicinal benefit, are available at reasonable prices for today and will remain available for our future generations. A winning combination for a sustainable future.